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Good Blog Writing Style  (View post)

Niraj Sanghvi [PersonRank 10]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
12 years ago9,225 views

I'm not sure I agree about the Google Blog titles. Their posts are generally short enough that you can quickly get the point from just a couple of sentences. While you don't know what you're getting from just reading the title, it's more effective at grabbing your attention. Which is more interesting: "Greetings, Earthlings" or "Google Earthlings Team logs mountain bike race on Google Earth"?

While their title is less informative, it's more interesting and much shorter.

Niraj Sanghvi [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Also, browsing their frontpage right now, it looks like less than half of the posts use the "interesting but not informative" style title, while the majority are quite informative.

The Gentle Group [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

It's fun to watch technology (e.g. web browsers, search algorithms, etc) influence language.

Plain language is important, but so is poetry. Someone should write a guide on how to write artful prose for the web.

phrases [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

I loved this one : " Yes, you can have a pony!", that can't be more descriptive with the "funny" side of google.
why have serious achievements to be serious?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Update: I added a sentence to the first rule to make the importance of microcontent more clear.

> While you don't know what you're getting from just reading
> the title, it's more effective at grabbing your attention. Which
> is more interesting: "Greetings, Earthlings" or "Google
> Earthlings Team logs mountain bike race on Google Earth"?

I think a variation of the second title would make more people read the post, provided they are interested in the subject (and if they're not interested, why should they visit the post, only to end up leaving immediately?). It can be short and to the point, it doesn't have to be long and complicated. And the post itself can be entertaining and still get the point across easily.

IMO, non-descript titles like the first one will simply get lost in a lot of contexts where people read a lot of other stuff, too, and not just a single blog.

> Also, browsing their frontpage right now, it looks like less
> than half of the posts use the "interesting but not
> informative" style title, while the majority are quite informative.

Indeed they did improve a lot when compared to last year:
blogoscoped.com/archive/2005-0 ...

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Plain language is important, but so is poetry.
> Someone should write a guide on how to write artful
> prose for the web.

I should add that I think almost none of the rules applies to e.g. a narrative blog that acts as work of fiction. Even spelling errors could emphasize the narrator's character, and posts may not supposed to be read completely out of context of the narration. Many rules I listed I think apply mostly to blogs that want to inform, in one way or another.

/pd [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

As RSS goes main stream next year, these points will certainly play a part. Remember IE7 has native RSS capabilities.

This is my take on some things;

1) Title in emails are Important – very important. The title draws a user to read an email. Likewise, consume content.
2) inking correctly without breaking is easier to read and understand by the non techies. This is a must, as global audience grows.
3) Transparent editing always.
4) and Full feeds, please :)- I have already began to prune my reader. Feeds that are not full status are slowly disappearing from my inbox.

Another thing about blogs and pages is also keep it uncluttered and less of widgetting. I have seen blogs where I wanted to comment, but just gave up as it took too long to load up. My take is screw them – I dont have all the time in the world to wait for the page to load up--to throw you my 2 cents worth of conversation.

Secondly, Bloggers who dont have comments enabled or respond to comments are nit bloggers :)-

Nathan Weinberg [PersonRank 8]

12 years ago #

Philipp: I suggest you drop the inverted pyramid suggestion. That style is for newspapers, so that editors can drop the later paragraphs to shorten an article, and is unnecessary and harmful for blogs. Most posts are short, and do not need the pyramid, while long posts whould be written in an "hourglass" style, with the most information at both the beginning and end, since that's where your readers will gravitate.

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

About the titles: Google promising "a pony" and not offering one is just Spam. When I as a SEO would optimize for "Angelina Jolie naked" meaning something like "Angelina Jolie wuold like our new lingerie instead of being naked" what do you think the people would call that?

How many children will find that post looking for a pony?
google.com/search?q=have+a+pon ...

Besides Web title can be both: Funny AND descriptive.

Something like: "Google will swallow you! Youtube acquired." would be the perfect title.

Mysterius [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

When I read Danny Sullivan's plea yesterday, my first feeling was despair. Have we really gotten to the point where all we care about is delivering the most plain, to-the-point, and, dare I say, unimaginative titles so that RSS readers can feel "efficient" in their reading? Whatever happened to, well, reading for pleasure? I read every post on the Google Blog, or at least scan it, just because I enjoy their writing style. I feel that the fun and light-hearted posts at Google really exemplify Google's attitude. It seems we all say that Google should remain smart, fun, and innovative, but we want to push Google to act more like boring, "responsible" corporate citizens...

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Nathan, I will keep the hourglass metaphor in mind, it's very good. I definitely agree a post should end with a bang...

> That style is for newspapers, so that editors can
> drop the later paragraphs to shorten an article, and is
> unnecessary and harmful for blogs

Tho that's just what happens in certain aggregators that only display the first paragraph as snippet, like here: blogoscoped.com/google/

Mysterius:
> I feel that the fun and light-hearted posts
> at Google really exemplify Google's attitude.
> It seems we all say that Google should remain smart,
> fun, and innovative, but we want to push Google to
> act more like boring, "responsible" corporate citizens...

I think it's more fun to only read the stuff you want to read, which to-the-point titles make it easier; a title can serve as navigational aid that often precedes your decision of whether or not you want to read the post in the first place. Actually, to me their titles only show the opposite of what you suggest; namely, that they're often acting like a big corporation who doesn't "get" blogging, and doesn't understand how microcontent works.

Take Matt Cutts' blog, for example. Matt's posts are fun to read, his videos are entertaining, he's not acting like a big corporation, and yet his titles are easy to grasp. He has all the fun stuff in the posts themselves. Matt Cutts does much more to make Google come across as lighthearted, spontaneous, fun and innovative.

Danny Sullivan [PersonRank 2]

12 years ago #

> Have we really gotten to the point where all we care about is delivering the most plain, to-the-point, and, dare I say, unimaginative titles so that RSS readers can feel "efficient" in their reading?

Well, I'd say we never left that point.

Look, it makes a big deal of difference how you read and what you are reading.

Reading a newspaper with photos, the entire article and other headlines related to a particular story? That's context that gives you flexibility to be funny, different, creative.

Am I reading a single line about your story mixed in amoung many other posts? Then your headline had better be descriptive, otherwise I have no idea what you are talking about. The "Have A Pony" headline from Google is a classic example. If that's all you see, you have no idea what it's about and might miss information you'd otherwise want to know. That's a communication failure.

Do you read full-text? Great – then headline and writing are less of an issue. But even if you put out a full-text feed, not all readers will display it.

I love creativity. I love funny headlines. I think one of the biggest challenges as a writer is to be funny, creative and informative all in one (and it can be done). But the reality is, you're going to lose people – perhaps many of them – if you don't consider the many ways people may want to get your information.

Finally, breaking the "rules" is fine. Sometimes, heck, you want to be different, go against the traditional or usability advice, and that can even work for. For a place like Good Morning Silicon Valley, it's a touchstone for that blog and an art form. But not everyone can do that for every post or even a lot of them.

Ultimately, of course, it's down to the publisher and their readers. It's easy to criticize from afar, but the readers overall might be happy. Then again, I'm a reader of the Google Blog, and I was definitely not happy :)

Personman [PersonRank 8]

12 years ago #

Two things:

While entirely unimportant, I found it quite funny that the section on erros had one: "the less errors" ought to be "the fewer errors".

Also, "this style of linking" really needs a name – it's a very interesting artifact of internet communication, and someone should study its origins, etc.

N Winton [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Some good advice for any bloggers there!

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

<< Also, "this style of linking" really needs a name ... >>

I propose "Link Train" as it's like each word is a carriage and the complete set of links is a train. (Maybe "Link Chain" would be another option...?)

Jakob Nielsen [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

I am with Danny, which should be no surprise, since I wrote about the importance of clear microcontent in 1998 (useit.com/alertbox/980906.html) and listed "Nondescript Posting Titles" as #3 in the top-ten mistakes of weblog usability (useit.com/alertbox/weblogs.htm ...).

"Mysterius" may like headlines like "Have A Pony", because he/she reads the entire blog anyway. However, most users are too busy to read everything, so they have to select what to read based on the promise that's held out by the headline (and possibly the summary, though our eyetracking studies of people reading newsfeeds and newsletters show that users often don't read anything after the headline if it doesn't appeal to them – useit.com/alertbox/newsletters ...).

Also, headlines must work out of context, say in SERPs. (Again eyetracking shows that users often only read the headline and skip the summary, unless the headline draws them in.)

Brian Clark [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

>>Have we really gotten to the point where all we care about is delivering the most plain, to-the-point, and, dare I say, unimaginative titles so that RSS readers can feel "efficient" in their reading?

No, we haven't. In fact the opposite is true.

The titles on the Google Blog *are* very poor, but I'm afraid I disagree with Philipp's prescription. Purely descriptive titles may work for some news-oriented blogs, but for other types (of which there are many that don't seem to have been taken into account here) this approach is just as bad.

Varun Mahajan [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

As we say in Hindi, Shabaash(well done!)

Lefebvre Saboya [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

That tips looks like a journalism technics adaptation. Dont work in blog write. Unless that your intention is to write articles aiming for google users only. Loyal readers dont like this. A goog blog should work like the Simpsons show: internal jokes, allusions, hints, references, mentions, indications and... comments.

Elias Kai [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Just ask wthe question:
What readers will remember from your title or from your daily posts ?
is it a fuzzy word or the fresh attractive information ?

James Robinson [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Nice article – was going to write my own, but I decided to link to yours instead.

Pedant [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

>less errors...

"Fewer errors"

Nathan Wallace [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Each reader of your blog will have a different level of interest in the content. Designing and planning your writing to cater for these different interest levels (e.g. title only, summary, key points, full details) delivers the best possible experience for all readers and the multitude of automated information tools we now rely on.

e-gineer.com/v1/articles/web-w ...

Frederick Szczepanski [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

w00t!

I hate that style of linking. Truly.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Train linking sounds good.

Also, what are those lines on streets called (or is that a European thing?):

____ ____ ____ ____ ____

Barbara Johnson [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Nice list of tips. Very useful for classroom blogging. I will be posting a link.

Sham [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Thank you very much for your advice. It was very useful to me. I started blogging a few weeks ago.
enhancelifethinktank.blogspot.com

Chris Lake [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

It's horses for courses really. I blogged about this yesterday, adding some observations about online vs offline headlines.

Partly it is a psychology thing, and partly about being descriptive for SEO and usability reasons. The fact is that we're all going to keep visiting Google Blog so they can get away with writing pretty much anything. Lesser known blogs and news sites might want to be more descriptive or outrageous.

I like a witty headline as much as the next person, only a witty headline doesn't always mean you get a witty post...

e-consultancy.com/news-blog/36 ...

This thread is locked as it's old... but you can create a new thread in the forum. 

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